"Centerfold" Became An '80s Party Song for the Ages

The J. Geils Band in 1981
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Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Despite their name, The J. Geils Band was loaded with more than one personality.

John Warren Geils, Jr. provided the band with two fists of guitar muscle. Peter Wolf, a radio DJ in the band's native Boston, offered those rowdy vocals. And Seth Justman not only played keyboards but, as the band came into their own, took on a lot of writing and production duties. And The J. Geils Band "came into their own" over a long time: eight albums across the '70s, with a few minor hits under their belt and a firm reputation as killer party-starters but little else.

All that changed in 1981 when Justman bought a silly little tune to the group for their tenth album, Freeze-Frame. Inspired by some teenage fantasy-turned-nightmare, "Centerfold" told the story of an average Joe who's horrified to discover his high-school crush peering up at him from the pages of a men's magazine in - where else? - the titular centerfold.

Wolf's talking-blues verses and Geils' buzzsaw guitar give "Centerfold" most of its charm, but it's Justman's keyboard hook that sent the song into the stratosphere. Justman would quip in interviews that years of constantly owing money to record labels meant that keyboards or synthesizers were usually inaccessible in the studio, but there was no escaping that instantly-singable hook. Armed with a winking video directed by Seth's brother Paul (who'd direct the acclaimed documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown decades later), "Centerfold" unfurled all the way to the top of the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Though Freeze-Frame produced another Top 5 hit in the album's title track, the band were heading for rough waters: Wolf, unsatisfied with the more "pop" direction the group wanted to lean toward, left for a solo career. Justman sang lead on one more album before the band broke up in 1985; the band reunited sporadically in the '90s and '00s, although Geils left the band acrimoniously a few years before his passing in 2017.

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